Landscape Influences on Spatial Patterns of White-tailed Deer Herbivory and Condition Indices in the Central Appalachian Mountains
Kniowski, Andrew Broni
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White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are a common and important game species throughout much of the central Appalachian region. The central Appalachian region encompasses a wide variety of habitat conditions and spatial habitat arrangements that may influence deer populations and management as well as deer impacts to ecosystems. Locally to regionally, deer populations have had an increasingly negative effect on forest biodiversity and a growing influence on forest succession. In Virginia, the combination of these factors has prompted establishment of deer population management goals and policies designed to support conservation of biodiversity, forest regeneration, and continued hunting opportunities. However, limited information is available to inform broad-scale assessment of herbivory impacts. Likewise, lack of understanding about the spatial variability of herbivory across and among landscapes impedes consistent application of ecological measures under differing management scenarios and landscape conditions. I evaluated deer herbivory intensity, the predictability of browsing rates, and the relationships and possible interactions between deer body mass and potential food sources, winter severity, and deer population density in the central Appalachian Mountains of Virginia. My results provide support for the inclusion of spatial factors to help partition variation of deer herbivory to allow for improved precision and accuracy in the design of field herbivory impact assessment methods and improve their application across various landscape contexts. Also, effective broad-scale herbivory impact assessment should include spatially-balanced vegetation monitoring that accounts for regional differences in deer forage preference. Agriculture and other non-forest habitats may provide resources that result in larger deer body mass either directly through food items or indirectly through alteration of the remaining forest habitat such as through increased edge. This suggests that available food sources and habitat are related to deer physiological parameters in the central Appalachian region and vary across landscapes. Likewise, these factors can change or can be affected through management across time. As a result, spatial approaches for monitoring and analysis are required for effective management and understanding of deer populations and herbivory impacts to biodiversity.
- Doctoral Dissertations